Google contractors have been specifically targeting dark skinned homeless people and college students in the US to collect their facial details, the Daily News reported. To collect this data, contractors working for Google reportedly lied to some people and concealed the fact that they were collecting their facial details in order to maximise their data collection, per the report. The company is undertaking this exercise to improve the face unlocking feature on its upcoming Pixel 4 device, the report said.

How people were misled: These contractors misled some people under the garb of characterising the scan as a “selfie game”, “mini-game” and “just playing with the phone” to get $5. The third-party firm, Randstand, that Google has outsourced this data collection exercise to, also instructed its employees to not tell subjects that they were being recorded, as per the report.

The contractors — referred to as TVCs (temps, vendors or contractors) by Google — were encouraged to rush subjects through survey questions and a consent agreement and walk away if people started to get suspicious. Randstand sent TVCs to Atlanta to “specifically” target homeless black people, the report continues.

“It was a lot of basically sensory overloading the person into getting it done as quickly as possible and distracting them as much as possible so they didn’t even really have time to realize what was going on.” — Daily News report

Problems with the consent form: The consent agreement form (available at Daily News) that these subjects had to sign as part of this data collection exercise also poses a few problems:

  • Google will retain this data for “as long as needed to fulfil the purposes which is expected to be about five years.”
  • This data could be processed outside of the USA “including in countries where you [subjects] may have fewer rights”.

Reports of Google carrying out a “field research” to improve its facial recognition algorithm first came out in July this year. At the time, a Google spokesperson had told The Verge that the purpose of this scan was to make sure that Pixel 4’s facial scan had no racial bias. The report also said that Google sought “affirmative consent” from people whose facial details it was gathering, including collecting their email addresses so that the company can delete a person’s facial details if such a request is made.

What we don’t know: At this point it isn’t clear if Google is aware of the practices that Randstand had been indulging in to collect this facial data. MediaNama has reached out to Google for clarification.